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Channel 4 increases capacity with new playout center

Channel 4 is a publisher-broadcaster based in London. Automation Technology Update visited to the playout center to hear some views from a user.

Channel 4 is known for innovation, with programs such as “Big Brother,” and its early adoption of an interactive approach to event TV. The station uses iTV, telephony and the Web alongside television to create an immersive multi-platform user experience.

From its master control, the station airs a variety of channels including the main Channel 4, E4 entertainment channel and three film channels.

Audio Technology Update: Tell me about the Pinnacle server purchase.

Kevin Burrows: We have a large installed base of networked Pinnacle MediaStream 700 servers, so it made sense to continue with the same supplier. We needed additional servers for our digital E4 and E4+1 entertainment channels. We have purchased the MediaStream 8000 HD/SD server system.

ATU: How does the network operate?

KB: The older MediaStreams are connected with Fibre Channel, and content transfer initiated by the Pro-Bel MAPP media management. The servers use Gigabit Ethernet connections linked through a gateway.

ATU: Do you think about how Pinnacle’s change of ownership will affect you?

KB: It is too early to comment. We train our in-house engineers to maintain the Pinnacle servers. We are a 24-hour operation so we have to be self-sufficient.

ATU: What equipment do you use in master control?

KB: We use Pro-Bel automation. We have the older Compass system that we use for the primary channel, and we are using Morpheus on a trial basis for the new More4 channels. We have our own traffic and sales system that links to the automation.

We have regional variations, plus different promos for terrestrial, satellite and cable feeds. The main channels run live programs, so timings can change and we use a lot of secondary events.

ATU: Are you looking at tighter integration between traffic and master control?

KB: What happens if there is missing material? The responsibility for the playout rests with master control.

Because of our complex operations we have a reasonable level of manning that has to be in master control anyway. As an example, programs like our daytime music channel change playlist in response to SMS voting. That all has to be managed in master control. Another issue is lack of support for secondary events from the traffic system.

ATU: There has been much talk of tapeless workflows, how does that affect your ingest?

KB: Because we are a publisher, all out programs come from external suppliers, and usually on tape. Twenty percent of commercials are already delivered as files so we already have the infrastructure. We are working closely with the broadcasting community towards common formats for file-based delivery and we expect a general migration in that direction.

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